Ocean City Today

OC system not ready for text 911

Resort keeps to calling emergency number until newer technology arrives
By Katie Tabeling | Jul 13, 2017

(July 14, 2017) Ocean City residents and visitors will stick to calling law enforcement rather than texting agencies to report an incident or ask for help, as the Police Commission has shelved ideas to introduce texting emergency numbers.

Although Maryland municipalities will be required to include text 911 features in the next few years, Emergency Services Director Joe Theobald recommended regulating calls for service through typical channels for now.

As the system now works, 911 calls are sent to the Worcester County Emergency Services and dispatched to Ocean City Police.

“When enhanced 911 comes into play, texting will be a part of it for emergencies, and it’ll be something we can consider,” Theobald said during Monday’s meeting. “But we have a dispatcher asking the right questions. Texting in characters for emergencies is not good unless we get further in technology.”

The idea to introduce a texting emergencies came last month, when resident Scott Chismar suggested to the council look into an anonymous tip system. He likened it to Orioles games at Camden Yards, when a five-digit number is placed on a big screen. Audience members can text in their concerns, and security comes to take care of the matter.

Councilman Dennis Dare, the commission chairman, pushed having the text alert system, and hoped that technology would help weed out municipal ordinance violations from the larger crime matters.

“An example is someone lying on the beach sees someone lighting a cigarette. You could call the lifeguard over, hopefully before the smoker leaves, or you can text the incident,” Dare said. “I don’t see why that would have to go to Snow Hill and through two different systems.”

Police Chief Ross Buzzuro pointed out that the city has a 311 smartphone app, which allows residents to report issues such as abandoned vehicles, animal complaints, ordinance violations and problem properties.

But like Theobald, Buzzuro preferred directing callers to the 911 line.

“We don’t want to deviate from 911 because there’s a check and balances when the calls come in.

Among other things, Buzzuro said the current system determines whether a call should go to police or the fire department.

“The fear is that although some calls seem mundane, like sleeping in cars, but something could slip through. Sleeping in cars could potentially be dangerous, and often leads to finding serious contraband,” he said.

Ocean City’s 311 number could be set up in a way that dispatch could monitor it in live time perhaps through an online portal, Theobald said.

Dare said he realized that educating the public where emergency texts should be send would be a bigger problem.

“Everyone knows what 911 is. If we had a text number, how do you get that to a quarter million people a week?” Dare said. “It works for the O’s because the audience had a screen in front of them. [Texting] is a concept to get ahead on.”

The OCMD 311 App is available to download for free on both iTunes and Google Play or can be downloaded by visiting http://oceancitymd.gov.

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